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HONOURED: Gray picks up the Services to Boxing Award from The Board in 2013

Big Ron Gray of Cannock assumed a virtual monopoly over the Midland fight scene during the final quarter of the last millennium. A former scrapper on the fairground booths and one-time Midland Area heavyweight challenger, the cigar chomping Black Country giant rose to become chief matchmaker to London fight faces Mickey Duff, Barry Hearn and Frank Warren in the 1980s before quietly bowing out of the game in 2001. Louis Daniel tracked down Big Ron, now 77, to reflect upon his life sentence in the hardest game

I DIDN’T start with the boxing until I was 15. Previously I played football. My Uncle Ron was the right-hand man to Bobby Robson at Ipswich Town. My Dad, a pitman, was a huge boxing fan. I was the eldest of five brothers and we’d have a little knockabout in the house for him. Then Dad learned of this boxing gym in Walsall above a pub. Two sides of the ‘ring’ had ropes, the other two sides were the walls of the gym. If you got hit on the wrong side of the ring your head smashed against the wall.

At 16 years old, I was the youngest pro in England at the time. When I got in the ring for my first fight at Thimberville Baths in Smethwick, my legs just ‘went’. I’d never boxed on canvas before. How can I do six rounds on this? I lost on a cut when I was well in front. As the doc stitched me up in a cubicle afterwards, a voice behind said: ‘You showed a brilliant jab, son.’ I turned around and it was [ex-world middleweight king] Randy Turpin, my idol. He invited me to sign with George Middleton [Turpin’s ex-manager] in Leamington and I ended up living with Randy for three months. He even worked my corner a few times… what he could see was incredible.

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SEQUEL IN SAUDI – Our verdict on the Ruiz-Joshua rematch JUDAH EXCLUSIVE – Zab opens up about his career-ending injury RAMIREZ STUNNER – Former amateur star is shocked on his pro debut MUCH, MUCH MORE – Including an investigation on cannabis in boxing